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new england literary news | nina maclaughlin

A comics poem collection; essays wrestle with racism, misogyny, and alienation

On January 15, 1919, a giant tank in the North End collapsed, sending a wave of an estimated 2.3 million gallons of molasses through the streets of Boston.globe staff/file

Great Molasses Flood anniversary

Jan. 15 marks the 100th anniversary of Boston’s Great Molasses Flood when a tank filled with as much as 2.3 million gallons of molasses collapsed, unleashing a wave of molasses that moved as fast as an estimated 35 miles per hour. Twenty-one people were killed; 150 were injured. Historian Stephen Puleo’s book, Dark Tide: The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919’’ (Beacon) came out in 2004 and a new edition is being released Tuesday with a fresh afterword. The book tells the story of the disaster, not just that day and its immediate aftermath, but the decade-long lawsuit that determined who was to blame for the deadly flood, an event that exemplified “[n]early every watershed issue the country was dealing with at the time — immigration, anarchists, World War I, Prohibition, the relationship between labor and Big Business, and between the people and their government.” Puleo will discuss the book on the anniversary day at 6 pm at the main branch of the Boston Public Library in Copley Square. And that night, Italian author Leonard G. Luccone will present his new book on the disaster, in Italian, at 6 pm at I Am Books, 189 North St.


Atmospheric pairing of paintings, words

“Cloud on a Mountain: Comics Poems from Greylock’’ (New Modern) by Boston writer and artist Franklin Einspruch is an atmospheric, elegant pairing of paintings and words.

Explaining the genre of comics poems, Einspruch writes in an e-mail, “Just as poetry uses words to produce a particular kind of literary or artistic effect, comics poetry uses words, pictures, panels, speech balloons, and the rest of the syntax of comics for the same end.”

In his fluid brush strokes and distilled language, he deposits us firmly in mountain mode, attunes us to the shifting light, the movement of water and air, the growing things — wild flowers, spreads of fern, “moss is a world.”


The book is the result of two residencies Einspruch was awarded at Bascom Lodge at the top of Mount Greylock, the highest point in the state, in 2015 and 2018.

The book is meditative, with a sly humor and a wisdom that’s both deeply engaged and transcendentally detached. Above the silhouette of pines against a sky, these words: “everything could be beautiful or poisonous or both.”

Journalist tells her own story

Kim McLarin, associate professor and graduate program director for popular fiction and publishing at Emerson, has worked as a journalist for The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She’s also written novels, including Jump at the Sun’’ (William Morrow) and “Meeting of the Waters” (William Morrow), and the memoir, Divorce Dog: Motherhood, Men, & Midlife’’ (Uncle Jimmy). Her latest book, Womanish: A Grown Black Woman Speaks on Love and Life’’ (Ig), out this week, is a collection of essays, written with candor, wisdom, and depth of feeling, that wrestles with racism, misogyny, and alienation, from the elite halls of Phillips Exeter Academy where she attended high school, to the newsrooms where some white journalists suspected her of having gotten the job only because she was black. The book showcases a powerful, clear-eyed, and necessary voice. McLarin will discuss the book on Feb. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge.

Coming out

Off Season’’ by James Sturm (Drawn & Quarterly)

The Hundred Wells of Salaga’’ by Ayesha Harruna Attah (Other)


Republic Café’’ by David Biespiel (University of Washington)

Pick of the week

Kirsten Goodale at Sherman’s Bookstore in Portland, Maine, recommends “Kindred” by Octavia Butler (Beacon): “A great mixture of fantasy and history that focuses on Dana, a black woman in 1976, who can time travel to the antebellum South. This means she juggles freedom (relatively) in her own time and enslavement in her time travel. A truly heartbreaking account of losing control during a horrible time in history.”

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Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter.” She can be reached at